The Blessing & Curse of Self-Imposed Limits

This year has been a year of experimentation for me. I’ve undertaken two huge projects, both exercises in self-imposed deadlines, and both have been profoundly beneficial, but with costs.

The first enormous task I undertook was the Goodreads 2011 Reading Challenge.  I’d felt that for the longest time I hadn’t been reading enough, and it seemed like a good way to get back in the habit. The other, of course, was NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

The gist of the Goodreads challenge is that you set a goal for yourself. You’re going to read X number of books over the course of the year. Every time you indicate to Goodreads that you’ve finished a book while the challenge is active on your account, it counts toward your goal.

I set my goal this year to 100 books. I’m a pretty quick reader, so I thought this would be ambitious but doable. I still believe that to be true, even though as of 5 minutes ago I’m sitting at 80 out of 100 books read, 20 left to go, and only 14 days left to read them in.

Having a limit, or a goal, or a deadline, can be incredibly useful. In NaNoWriMo, it was a fantastic driver that enabled me to complete 50,000 words in a month. But with the Goodreads reading challenge, I find there are trade-offs. Even though I’ve read far more this year than I have in many many years previous, I often don’t enjoy it as much. And that’s not because I’m not enjoying the reading; I’ve liked each book I’ve chosen so far. But I feel constrained in my choices.

I’m a fan of long books. Hundreds and hundreds of pages is fantastic. I’ve read very few of those this year; the only ones I can think of offhand are A Game of Thrones, and Elantris. I’ve steered clear of most long books because they take longer to read.

80 books in one year is a LOT, and if I don’t make it to 100, I won’t be too upset. I would at least like to make 90. But for 2012, I will absolutely NOT be setting the limit to 100 again. Maybe 30 would be a better target. Lesson learned; limits are good, as long as you don’t limit yourself too much.